SAN JOSE – Sure, the Sharks’ 5-2 victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins on Tuesday night was chock full of highlights.
There was Martin Jones’ glove save of Sidney Crosby at 5:40 in the first period. Joe Thornton scored a goal in his 1,000th game in teal. Evander Kane had the puck on his stick nearly every single time he was on the ice.
Yet the most memorable moment occurred toward the end of the first frame, just before Tomas Hertl scored his first goal on the evening. That’s not to say tallying his second career hat trick in the final minutes of regulation and having caps rain down from the stands didn't make an impression.
But, Hertl was so committed to scoring that first goal he literally butt-checked Pittsburgh star Evgeni Malkin off the play in order to keep his scoring chance alive.
“Every guy’s laughing because I used my big ass again,” Hertl laughed when the media asked about the play after the win.
The Czech forward has been nails since coach Peter DeBoer moved him to center, a position he's played on-and-off in his time in teal. With Evander Kane and Joonas Donskoi on his wings, the Hertl-led third line – if you can even call them that anymore – keeps generating offense for San night after night.
With his defensive play and three goals on the night, Tuesday perfectly showed how Hertl has become comfortable and confident playing the pivot.
“I try to play to every game a little bit better in the d-zone,” Hertl said. “I still have to work out some details, but I think every game is better and better. I will just try to keep working and feel like a centerman for my wings.”
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Hertl’s transformation into a mainstay in the middle is another positive development in what has, thus far, been a productive campaign.
With the exception of some minor injuries earlier in the season, the 25-year-old forward has stayed relatively healthy and has emerged as an undeniable force for San Jose’s offense. Tuesday’s hat trick gives him 11 goals in 20 games – in addition to 10 assists he’s also tallied during that time. His third goal of the evening was also the 100th of his NHL career.
Not surprisingly, Hertl’s more excited that his line as a whole is playing well. Kane has points in eight of his last nine games, and Donskoi has registered four in his last five. Whenever these guys are on the ice together, good things seem to happen.
“I’m happy for our line because we’ve built some chemistry,” he said. “We’re getting chances every night. It’s really fun where we’re at right now on the ice.”
And how could he not have fun? The Sharks’ winning streak stands at seven games, and they’re defeating some of the toughest teams in the league – yes, even the Penguins.
“I’m so happy just for everybody on the ice because we’re just winning and that’s the most important,” Hertl said, flashing his signature smile. “Winning is a lot of fun. It’s not just about who scores, it’s about how we win the game. So I’m really happy for that.”